Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses and civic leaders to talk shop about their latest projects and the decisions that lead to success.
Although he can't claim a title akin to Howard Stern's "King of All Media," talk-radio host Abdul-Hakim Shabazz has become an imposing presence on the local airwaves and has solidified his influential standing through his blog, Twitter feed, Facebook page and occasional public forums on local issues.
From 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays, Shabazz helms “Abdul in the Morning” on WXNT-AM 1430, holding forth on local, state and national issues. He identifies himself along the political spectrum as a “socially progressive capitalist pig,” and eschews the term “conservative” in favor of “consistent.”
“This is what I believe, and I'm going to try to be as consistent as humanly possible. I don't necessarily spout an ideology as much as I just want to get people to think,” said Shabazz, 41.
His opinions are informed by a wide-ranging education and work history. Shabazz received a bachelor's degree in communication and journalism from Northern Illinois University in 1992 and a master's in public affairs reporting in 1995 from the University of Illinois. The self-professed overachiever earned his law degree from St. Louis University in 2002, making a 200-mile round-trip four nights a week while working full-time.
His resume includes positions such as assistant appellate prosecutor for Springfield, III., columnist for IBJ, adjunct faculty member for University of Indianapolis and Ivy Tech Community College, stand-up comedian, voiceover/on-air talent and actor. He's also been a spokesman and strategic communications coordinator for the Illinois Attorney General's Office, an assistant producer/anchor for a television news program and a disc jockey.
Shabazz tries to leaven his policy-wonk commentary with big dollops of humor but admits that a caustic streak sometimes peeks through. For example, on his blog in January, he twice compared Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White to former Ugandan despot Idi Amin, pointing up alleged dictatorial qualities.
“That was a little over the top,” Shabazz admitted to IBJ.
(Mary Louise Bewley, director of the IPS office of school and community relations, responded: “IPS has no interest in comments made by Mr. Shabazz that unfairly attack the character of the superintendent, IPS administration, school board, teachers or district policies. Our focus is on ensuring the best quality education for our students, not the vitriolic rhetoric of naysayers who have nothing positive to contribute to our district or our city.”)
Shabazz invites those with views opposed to his own on the show in the interest of debate, and he’s just as willing to bark when an invitation isn’t accepted. He points to a standing invitation for former Indianapolis deputy mayor Melina Kennedy to discuss her candidacy in this year’s mayoral race.
“She’s not necessarily a big fan of me, but I’m thinking to myself, ‘If Barack Obama and Bill O’Reilly can sit down and have a conversation a day before the Super Bowl, surely me and somebody who wants to be the mayor of Indianapolis can sit down and have a chat,’” Shabazz said. “Why be afraid of little old me?”
He also referred to an alleged spat between himself and Kennedy dating back to 2006 that might still be creating hard feelings. Jon Mills, communications director for Kennedy’s mayoral campaign, replied that “Abdul is misguided. I can assure you that we have not ruled out any discussions at this point in time. “
In the video at top, Shabazz expounds on his approach to politics, his radio show, and widening his audience through social media. In the video below, he reveals how he developed a love for performing, how he honed his comedic chops, and his love for four-color role models.